Chinese mend their ties with US . . . and with USSR

Sino-American relations are on the mend . . . and so are Sino-Soviet relations. In a meeting with Canadian and American journalists this past weekend, Foreign Minister Wu Xueqian said he sincerely hoped to improve relations both with the Soviet Union and with the United States.

At the same time, he intends to maintain China's ''independent foreign policy ,'' which he defined as ''not attaching itself to any big power or yielding to the pressure of any big power.''

In a few days Mr. Wu sets off for the United Nations General Assembly and for official visits to Ottawa and Washington. Meanwhile US Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger will be visiting China Sept. 25 to 29.

Mr. Wu would not say what Mr. Weinberger will be discussing with his counterpart, Gen. Zhang Aiping. But guidelines for transfer of so-called dual-use technology (technology with military and civilian applications) and American military sales to Taiwan are believed to be high on the agenda. Mr. Wu welcomed Washington's decision to approve these technology transfers and said this was one reason for the recent improvement in Sino-American relations.

As for Sino-Soviet relations, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Kapitsa has just visited Peking for talks with Wu and his deputy Qian Qichen. The Kapitsa visit will be followed in October by the third round of Sino-Soviet talks on normalizing relations.

The Reagan administration's hard line toward the Soviets is well known. Hence , it may seem paradoxical that China is improving ties with both superpowers at the same time.

Until a couple of years ago, China strongly opposed Soviet ''hegemonism'' - as manifested particularly in the invasion of Afghanistan and support for the Vietnamese occupation of Kampuchea (Cambodia). The Chinese talked loudly of the need for all peace-loving forces in the world to unite against Soviet expansionism and hegemonism.

Today Afghanisatan and Kampuchea are still among the three ''obstacles'' China cites as hampering normalization with Moscow. (The third obstacle is the Soviet military buildup in Mongolia and on its long border with China.)

But China no longer talks in general terms about Soviet expansionism or hegemonism. And Peking shows little public interest in lining up with Washington in a strategic partnership to oppose Moscow.

Instead, Peking emphasizes its independence in foreign policy. This is a line it has always espoused and which it never abandoned - even during its honeymoon with the Carter administration after normalization and especially after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Western observers here recognize that China's independence from the two superpowers is a matter not only of rhetoric for Peking but also of substance. But rhetoric can give the wrong impression unless the actual content of the relationships is examined.

China does not accuse the US of trying to encircle her militarily, as she does the Soviet Union. China has thousands of students and scholars in the US, whereas with the Soviet Union it is talking about exchanging a handful.

China has signed a complicated textile agreement with Washington. It is discussing an even more complicated agreement which, if concluded, will open the way for the transfer of American civilian nuclear technology to China.

China and the United States disagree on many bilateral and world issues. But the ever-present and overwhelmingly emotional disagreement concerns Taiwan and American arms sales thereto.

For Washington, steady improvement in Sino-American relations requires a keen sensitivity to the emotional aspects of the Taiwan issue, while responding to China's real security concerns over the military threat from its Soviet neighbor.

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